Social media acts as a revolutionary force that change the way public relations practitioners think and act (Grunig, 2009). Prior to the popularity of myriad social media platforms, company websites or corporate websites are the only identified and
selected means for organizations to communicate with the publics. The emergence of many social media categories brings an incremental change to public relations practices as it allows an easy and effective two-way communication between the organizations and their stakeholders. Nevertheless, there is a contradictory perspective. On one hand, social media facilitates communication, on the other hand the organizations tend to lose control of the distribution of contents via social media.
Previously, by engaging in traditional media, organizations were in control of their corporate images and messages. Traditional public relations practice, according to Burns (2008:7) dictated what to be delivered to the key public through mass media and press industry. With the emergence of social media, this control is no longer exercised. Now everyone can become a journalist and in turn, he or she can talk anything about the organization (Gregory, 2012). As a result, public relations practitioners are no longer in control of the new communication technology and its application since it has given the general public the power to cause direct consequences for the organization (Vujnovic & Kruckeberg, 2010). The consequences could be positive or negative.
In light of this, different approaches were adopted by relevant authorities. The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), a regulator of public listed companies (PLCs) in the US, for instance, had given permission for PLCs to use variety of social media to communicate with their stakeholders provided that they announce beforehand which social media they would like to opt for (The Star, 5 April 2013). This move has come out timely and appropriately due to the pervasiveness of social media today and at the same time underscored the significance of social media as a corporate disclosure tool. On the contrary,
Securities Commission (SC) which regulates Bursa Malaysia prohibits the usage of other social media platforms by PLCs as the means to disclose corporate information to the publics (e.g., retail, institutional, and foreign investors, financial community, regulators, government, prospective and existing investors). The prohibition suggests that SC is still functioning as the depository of all corporate disclosures by PLCs and that material information can only be accessed via SC websites. There is a discrepancy in the way that these regulators weigh the benefits and the shortcomings of social media use for corporate disclosure. The posssible reason for the prohibition is to avoid the negative consequences as a result of the lack of control on content distribution by the organizations.
The basis for promoting social media use in this context, on the other hand, can be linked to the body of literature. There are some evidences that suggest the positive effects of social media use on perceived organizational performance. Past studies found that social media has positive effect on firm’s performance (Hui Du &
Wei Jiang, 2015) and positive investors’ reaction to Corporate Social Disclosure (CSD) on investment behaviour in the US, Japan, France, and Sweden (Der Laan Smith et al., 2010). There is, however, a lack of studies examining the impact of social media use for corporate disclosure on perceived organizational performance in the Malaysian context. So far, there is only one study by Parveen et al. (2015) focusing on Malaysian context that linked the positive consequences of social media use on perceived organizational performance. They developed 5 themes of perceived organizational performance namely enhanced customers’ relationship and customers service, cost reduction, improved information sharing and accessibility, improved brand visibility, and revenue generation. The study by Parveen et. al (2015), used a
qualitative approach to cluster the types of perceived organizational performances.
Empirical testing on the relationship between social media use for corporate disclosure and perceived organizational performance of Malaysian companies is yet to be explored. The present study intends to fill in this void.
The baseline data about the use of social media by public relations practitioners, particularly in Malaysia, is also limited (see Catherine & Low, 2013;
Kalthom et al., 2014; Gabriel & Koh, 2016; and Zeti, 2019). Studies examining it in Western context, on the other hand, found mixed findings. Despite high penetration of social media use in organizations (Ratliff & Kunz, 2014; Perry et al., 2003; Giplin, 2010; Ciszek, 2013; Waters et al., 2009; Zorn et al., 2010; and Liu et al., 2012), some studies (Taylor & Perry, 2005; Toledano, 2010) demonstrated low adoption rate of social media among public relations practitioners. Avidar (2009) reported that the usage level was still at the beginning stage and Toledano (2010) claimed that practitioners were unable to benefit from social media use to upgrade their professional status. Alikilic and Abatek (2012) highlighted that not all social media platforms and applications were equally adopted by public relations practitioners.
One aspect that past research has overlooked is the use of social media in organization for specific functions. Existing studies tend to focus on general use of social media by public relations practitioners (e.g., Wolf & Archer, 2012; Avery et al., 2010; Eyrich et al., 2008; Briones et al., 2011; Kelleher, 2009; Curtis et al., 2009;
Freberg et al., 2013; Taylor & Kent, 2010; Diga & Kelleher, 2009; Sweetser et al., 2011 & Waters et al., 2010) and the level of social media adoption of social media by organizations (e.g., Prokofieva, 2015; Blankespoor et al., 2013; Zhou et al., 2015;
Zhang, 2015; Hui Du & Wei Jiang, 2015; Schniederjans et al., 2013; Der Laan Smith et al., 2010; and Parveen et al., 2015). Studies also reveal that blogs, wikis, podcasts, social network sites/social networking sites, social news/news aggregation/RSS feeds, and video sharing offer unique properties for public relations functions (e.g., Burns, 2008). The typology of use depicting the types of social media used for specific public relations functions, however, is still untapped. At the time of writing, there were only two studies on social media use for public relations functions (e.g., Eyrich et al., 2008 and Alikilic & Atabek, 2012). The present study aims to extend the typology of use by linking social media platforms and public relations functions.
This leads to the testing of social media use for corporate disclosure and its effect on perceived organizational performance and moderated by the usage of social media for public relations functions in the present study.
Another strand of research focuses on public relations practitioners’
perception of the social media use in organizations. Public relations practitioners feel the growing importance and relevance of social media in their jobs (Bajkiewicz et al., 2011); social media offers unique properties for public relations practice (Burns, 2008) and the practice of public relations via social media is effective and indispensable (Briones et al., 2011). It is important then to delve into factors leading to the adoption of social media by public relations practitioners. There is a vast body of literature on innovation adoption. Generally, the literature agrees on several aspects that determine innovation adoption. First is innovation characteristics; it is compatible with the situation, and is well-suited to the norm of the organization (Samsudin et al., 2013), it is easy to demonstrate the benefits of using a technological innovation in the organization (Peng, Tai-Quan et al., 2012), the organization is
usually the first to try out a technological innovation in the industry and the organization likes to experiment with an innovation (San Martin, 2013).
Second is organizational supports; top management promotes the use an innovation in organization (Wu &Subramaniam, 2011); information sharing on an innovation is encouraged and recommended in the organization (Teo et al., 2006), and interaction with the colleagues helped he/she to learn more about an innovation (Talukder & Quasi, 2011). Third is environmental factors; such as the move by any industry player to use an innovation would put pressure on his/her organization to do the same (Sila, 2013) and consistent legislative framework related to the use of an innovation in an organization (Teo et al., 2006).
The present study acknowledges the influence of these factors and adopt Technological-Organizational-Environmental Framework (TOEF) as antecedents of social media use for corporate disclosure to provide comprehensive understanding of the adoption and implementation process by public relations practitioners in Malaysia. Subsequently, this study tests the effect of social media use for corporate disclosure on perceived organizational performance. Central to this study is the role of corporate disclosure which is closely linked to the idea of projecting images and managing reputation as found in Impression Management Theory (IMT). One of the basic assumptions of IMT is the need for organization to be seen in a positive manner. The potrayal of negative impression on an organization is highly avoidable.
If this negative portrayal is not managed, it will lead to some other inevitable situations. The link between corporate disclosure and IMT is evident. Firstly, it is through corporate disclosure that an organization can manage and monitor its
impression on its publics. Secondly, by managing its impression on others, in a way, an organization can choose particular direct acquisitive impression management tactics that consummate to the material information being distributed. Thirdly, the role of corporate disclosure via social media in this present research is acted as a binocular device from which publics can form conscious responsiveness on an organization mainly on its products and services, management strengths and weaknesses, and financial and non-financial implications that have detrimental effect on the organization. Blending the two theoretical lenses, this study develops a model framework that aims to test these relationships. The findings are expected to add to our understanding of social media adoption in public relations practices in Malaysia and its effects on image building through disclosure of information via social media and eventually its effects on perceived organizational performance. The next section will focus on the research questions, research objectives, scope and significance of this study.